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Why Digital Assets Are A Superior Source Of Value For Enterprises

by Ralph Windsor on October 17, 2016

Last month, Lisa Grimm wrote an article for CMSWire: DAM Expands Its Reach in the Enterprise.  Amongst other topics, the item describes how DAM has incrementally moved into areas which used to be the preserve of ECM (Enterprise Content Management):

Some argue DAM is creeping into the space enterprise content management wanted to occupy a decade ago, albeit without necessarily announcing itself as a one-stop shop for all your content needs.  Rather, by building on the strengths that set it apart from most content management systems (CMS) and extending those tools into other areas, DAM has quietly become the single source of truth within a company’s broader content ecosystem. It may not be an end-to-end publishing solution — though some vendors are positioning themselves as such — but it frequently serves as the core system that pushes out to other content publishing tools, either via API or as part of a product suite.” [Read More]

Lisa goes on to describe how metadata is more sophisticated, expressive and integrated in DAM solutions than tends to be the case with ECM, which is contributory to why DAMs are now becoming the content hubs of choice for many organisations.  This is about the best article I have read about the role of enterprise DAM this year (in particular with reference to ECM).

There there are a number of obvious reasons why DAM is acquiring momentum at the expense of ECM.  The first of these is the vague and all-encompassing objectives of ECM solutions, i.e. the ‘one stop shop’.  As a general rule, when I hear this phrase in reference to IT systems, I get concerned there will in fact be a lot of both stopping and shopping – far more than the once (as the description promises).  Top-down approaches that try to solve multiple problems simultaneously tend to be unsuccessful (in technology scenarios, at least) because they become over-complex and too many compromises have to be made which subsequently limit adoption.

10-15 years ago, you could earn good money as a DAM vendor, simply by finding ECM implementations and contacting the middle management personnel responsible for rich media like photos, videos etc and offering them an alternative dedicated solution focused exclusively on their needs.  In 90% of cases, what they had been given as part of an ECM initiative was largely useless for most of their day-to-day work (and that it is a conservative estimate) .  As a result, additional shareholder funds ended up having to be spent on separate DAM products to provide something which addressed the limitations which the ECM products were supposed to deal with.

When some commentators claim that DAM has only taken off in the last 5-6 years, that is because they were unable to see the formative stages of a trend towards DAM which has already been in-progress for a far longer period prior to 2010 (and has been compounded by the rapid increase in the amount of digital material now created).  ECM software vendors seem conflicted and unable to make up their minds about how to deal with digital assets and their increasing acceptance among enterprise clientele.  They appear unsure whether it represents a threat or an opportunity.  On the one hand, they are eager to tell prospective users how their solutions can be used for ‘any’ content management scenario, including Digital Asset Management.  On the other, they don’t like to specifically refer to a given use-case like DAM, because they think that suggests the scope of what their system can be put to is more limited than they would like users to believe.

A fundamental issue with the term ‘content’ is that it is vague and lacking in definition.  It encourages people to view intellectual property as though it were some large vat or lake of as yet unrealised potential (i.e. a commodity).  In reality, users  of ‘content’ have very specific needs, they can’t treat the subject as though it were some amorphous blob of the same stuff, because it just isn’t.  As Lisa’s article describes, metadata is the transformative element of digital assets that gives them their definition and an ability to identify the context where they might be of value.  This is a major part of the reason why DAM is infiltrating enterprises (to borrow Lisa’s description) because it obliges software developers and architects to apply themselves to solving more precisely defined problems, rather than abstracting them to a point where they can convince themselves that they don’t really exist or are trivial in nature.

When technologists start using phrases like ‘anything is possible’ and ‘it is what you make of it’, these tend to be clichés and fallacies which imply that the hard work is going to have to get done by the end user to try and make the tools work for them, rather than those responsible for their implementation.  In my opinion, the ECM market is built on these unstable foundations, because unlike DAM, it lacks a tangible definition of why it should exist that can withstand the scrutiny which it will inevitably get exposed to, post-implementation.  Digital assets have a ready-made conceptual model that deals with content and context (metadata) separately, but within the same package, i.e. the asset.  This makes it much easier to apply the theory underpinning DAM to a wider range of scenarios while still re-using core components of the management software.

It remains to be seen whether DAM (and the idea of digital assets along with it) can fully exploit their advantage as a source of enterprise value (which was conceived of well before it became popular) or if the current protagonists in our market will squander it by either over-obsessing on one small element or pursuing the same ill-advised grand schemes than have been the undoing of many ECM implementations.  Irrespective of what fate might deliver in terms of long-term sustainability, however, digital assets represent an evolutionary step up from ‘content’ and that is why they are now becoming more widely adopted, understood and used by an increasing number of enterprises.

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